Seconds ago I finished an article on the problems that young farmers, the challenges they face and how they overcome them. In that article an interview was undertaken with a successful young farmer. he indicated that:
…most times there is a lack of technical support, which leads we young producers having to take risks with new technoques and technologies that we hope are innovative enough to better our enterprise.
Who is responsible for ‘technical support’? Most would say this is the job of extension officers. It’s almost a given that if one speaks to most small farmers, they would argue that extension officers are not very helpful. They lack in technical knowledge, they do not visit often and simply do not meet the needs the farmer – are common phrases. However is this the fault of the extension worker? Does he or she have the right tools and resources for the job? Are they experienced in face to face communication and mediation skills? How many small farmers do you think he/she has to cater to in one day or even in one week?
Fortunately previous investigation has provided great enlightenment. Here are some of the problems as explained by local extension officers:
- Limited rescources in terms of office equipment – Some offices share 2 – 3 computers making data collection and processing difficult and time consuming
- Issues with farmer communication – Officer must sometimes use their personal phones to keep in contact with farmers. Even so some farmers simply do not make use of mobile phones
- In some areas, there are too few officers to service numerous small farmers.
- Extension officers often rival with private companies for the attention of the farmers. large business and input suppliers expend resources promoting their products, most commonly chemicals.
These a local issues faced in Trinidad however this is not the case in other Caribbean islands. Over in jamaica, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) recently distributed 124 computer tables to extension officers, in order to assist them in their data collection efforts and to assist in the effective service of jamaica’s 230 000 rural farmers. The initative is part of a computerization program that began since 1998 with emphasis on ICTs. Clearly the extension officers of that island are well equipped to fufil their duties.
Source: Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) – Images of the ceremony providing extension officers with a powerful ICT Resource – Jamaica
On the other hand, one should consider the attitude of some (not all) of the famers themselves. After a lecture from a visiting extension officer, a fellow student in agriculture indicated that farmers in the United States are quite up to date with smart phone technology, tech applications in agriculture and most important ICTs such as video calling. This, according to the guest lecturer, is because they actively seek out the help of their extension officers. Due to geographical limitations it is not possible for extension officers to meet with each farmer on a timely basis. Therefore in order to effectively communicate ICTs are used to the fullest.
In closing, it is worth taking a closer look at agricultural issues in every situation as more often than not there are unseen factors which would drastically affect the overall situation. The key is to educate oneself as much as possible before steps are taken to solve anyissue.